Jimmy Wales is not Wikipedia

by Mathew on March 5, 2008 · 13 comments

I like salacious rumours and innuendo about public figures as much as the next guy — heck, probably more than the next guy (I am a member of the media, after all). But all of this Jimmy Wales stuff just seems really over the top to me, and barely even relevant to anything that really matters. I know (or at least I think I know, thanks to Valleywag) that Jimmy got involved with Rachel Marsden and it ended badly, and he may or may not have tried to intervene to clean up her Wikipedia entry.

I also know, or think I know, that there was some kind of brouhaha over things that Jimmy billed the foundation for that were really private expenses, something that Wikipedians appear to have tried (and failed) to keep as an internal matter, and that Jimmy says it’s all cleared up now. And in the latest allegation, Jimmy apparently offered to clean up a Novell scientist’s entry in Wikipedia in return for a donation.

Are some of these things bad? Maybe. Personally, I couldn’t care less whether Jimbo is sleeping with Rachel Marsden (other than the fact that she appears to be insane), or what they say to each other in their IM chats. I don’t care whether Jimbo has had marital problems, or whether he’s had disagreements with the foundation over his expenses. All that says to me is that he’s human, and has made mistakes.

But the implication is that because he’s made some mistakes in his personal life, that somehow Wikipedia itself is demeaned or invalidated in some way, as though someone had discovered that Mother Theresa was skimming money, or running drugs through the orphanage. To me, Jimmy Wales is nothing more than the guy who set Wikipedia in motion; it has become much more than a one-man show, if it ever was. What he does in his personal life is of no interest to me, nor do I think it’s particularly relevant to what matters about Wikipedia.

  • http://dcharge.blogspot.com Mark Forman

    Good one Matthew, couldn't agree with you more.

  • http://www.eyelite.nl marc

    Jimmy Wales is to Wikipedia what da Vinci was to the Mona Lisa or what everyone who creates something is in relation to whatever he or she created. You can not diminish his role as creator of Wikipedia by stating; “To me, Jimmy Wales is nothing more than the guy who set Wikipedia in motion; it has become much more than a one-man show”. You mix up a. creation and b. the effect of a creation
    in order to deal with c. your projections of Jimmy Wales. If you state that your not interested in his personal life than start by making the distinction between a & b. If you do so c. will automatically disappear.

    Can you explain why you write “nor do I think it’s particularly relevant to what matters about Wikipedia” without writing about the persona Jimmy Wales? After all…he is the one who invented Wikipedia.

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  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Marc, Jimmy Wales is not Da Vinci and Wikipedia isn't the Mona Lisa.
    Wikipedia may have been started by Jimbo, but as far as I'm concerned
    he hasn't created it in any meaningful sense — the tens of thousands
    of editors and moderators have done that. His views are important, but
    not overwhelmingly so, and haven't been for some time.

  • http://www.storyofmylife.com/antje antje wilsch

    Hi Mathew, have to disagree with you on this one. The personality at the forefront of the non-profit needs to be above reproach. If you've ever had the pleasure of working for or with a non-profit, to get 501(c)(3) status is actually a big deal, can be lost (taken away by the IRS) and when people in charge blur the lines between for profit and non-profit, it hurts all non-profits. Most non-profits toil tirelessly to do some good in the world. They have a lot of regulations on their shoulders and a lot of tedious and never ending fundraising to do. They struggle as much to get the money to survive as they do to continue their actual operations.

    On the Wikipedia side, having tried to “learn” the Wikipedia way and edit things, only to spend a lot of time learning their weird formatting and rules, spending time editing and adding things only to have them deleted within 5 minutes from some editor nazi who gives no other reason than “this violates the terms” and how incredibly frustrating this is, WIkipedia is used by MANY people to be a voice of fact and data. It's referenced, it's quoted, it's used as a tool for many different things. Thus, it should be above reproach and this includes the leaders at its helm. If they can ever show me that some things on Wikipedia are fair, I would have a better opinion of them. But they don't, and trying to get into Wikipedia is difficult especially when I've seen cases of two companies who do the same thing – one gets an entry and the other does not. Does that economically hurt the one not there? It might!

    These accusations about anyone from the org making strong “hints” that donations = better profiles, if true, is a blatant violation of the spirit (if not the legal) terms of agreement for what Wikipedia is, and for what it got its 501c3 status for. That friends can get better wikipedia entries dilutes the value of Wikipedia. I don't know whether the allegations are true, but if they are, they have nothing to do with who is sleeping with who but rather that the entries can be bribed, bought/paid for or even influenced – and that makes it wrong.

    That being said, the issue here seems to be the blurring the of lines between the non-profit regulations that thousands of other non-profits must live and abide by.

    Scandals involving the Red Cross, Goodwill, United Way and others that hurt the organizations' reputations and brought individuals down, as well as making people (rightfully) question whether their donations and dollars were being spent appropriately, and whether the tax exempt status is deserved.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    I see your point, Antje — and I realize that running a non-profit is
    no laughing matter. I'm not saying that Jimmy Wales should be proud
    of his behaviour, or that the Wikipedia board shouldn't call him on
    the carpet, I'm just saying that I don't think it's the end of the
    world as far as Wikipedia is concerned. Even if the allegations about
    Wales offering edits to an entry in return for donations are true –
    and so far they are just allegations — I still think Wikipedia is
    unharmed by it. I don't think any of Jimmy's activities should cast
    any kind of stain on Wikipedia whatsoever, in fact. So I guess we'll
    have to agree to disagree.

    On Thu, Mar 6, 2008 at 1:37 PM, Disqus

  • http://www.storyofmylife.com/antje antje wilsch

    But you say this one digression is ok, no big deal. What if Wikipedia is rife with this? What if anyone with enough money can buy their way to a favourable entry (even if via only one channel, ie him)? Then as far as I'm concerned they've thwarted their charter and deserve to lose their tax exempt status, possibly owing back taxes. How do we know this isn't indicative of a larger problem? I guess I just don't understand how the integrity of Wikipedia overall is unharmed by his behaviour. If it were for-profit I wouldn't be complaining. They don't pay taxes. They make millions of dollars. Taxpayers subsidise non-profits. Therefore, his behaviour, IF it happened, is inexcusable, and IMHO has tainted Wikipedia's integrity. Honestly I'm kind of surprised that a reporter would take this lightly. But I agree to disagee as well, but I definitely vehemently disagree.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Well, to be fair, I didn't say it was OK, or no big deal — I said
    that Jimmy's personal behaviour is no big deal, as far as I'm
    concerned. If it is shown that trading edits for donations is
    commonplace, then I think that would be a serious issue. But until
    that's proven, what we have is a bunch of salacious gossip and
    innuendo about Jimmy Wales, which as far as I can tell has little or
    nothing to do with the real business of Wikipedia. That's the point I
    was trying to make.

    On Thu, Mar 6, 2008 at 5:00 PM, Disqus

  • http://www.storyofmylife.com/antje antje wilsch

    Yes, I know I'm dragging this out… :) To me, even one instance of pay per play is too much, especially coming from the main man himself. If the top does it, that sends a clear message that the lower ranks can do it too. I don't care a whit about his personal life either. I care about his personal life affecting or influencing posts as Wikipedia's leader though.

    Soooo, know any editors my clients can bribe? ;)

  • mediamangler

    “Nobel Prize winner’s entry”?? Were you smoking some of Merkey's peyote when you wrote that? Merkey has never been anywhere near a Nobel Prize.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Thanks, mediamangler. For some reason when I read the posts about
    Merkey, I saw “Nobel” scientist instead of “Novell” scientist. My bad.
    That's what I get for writing blog posts while I'm on vacation.

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